'Sorry, But No Woman Can Be a Perfect Wife AND Mother'

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    'The demands of children are immediate

    A great American comic once said that telling your toddler he must not be jealous of a new baby because you love them both the same, was rather like telling your wife she shouldn't be jealous of your mistress for the same reason.

    But what do you tell the father of a screaming infant when he feels horribly rejected by his exhausted and harassed wife?
    What reassurance can he be given that she loves and desires him as much as ever, when the evidence of his own eyes is so obviously to the contrary? There he is, shoved aside in the marital bed to make room for an intruder, one who, moreover, is snuggled up against your breast - where he likes to be - and quite probably nuzzling it as well.

    He's trying to tell you about some corporate crisis at work, and how he overcame it, and you're only - at best - half listening or, at worst, actually dropping off to sleep.
    Meanwhile, he's busy wondering how his natty little two-door sports car was exchanged for a five-door tank filled with baby seats, mobiles and stickers.
    Is it any wonder that the poor chap gets a tad edgy from time to time?
    I exaggerate, of course. There's no shared happiness like that created by a new baby, no greater sense of wonder; and no greater sense of achievement as the infant begins to grow, smile, walk and talk, and generally become a successful, cheerful, well-adjusted child.

    I did it four times, and the sense of joy and wonder never faded.
    But truly, I got tired - terribly tired. And cross. And confused. And shouted a lot. My cooking - never cordon bleu anyway - took a nose dive and the chap who delivered pizzas became a family friend.
    The house was in chaos. Our social life died. And my poor husband stood right there at the back of the queue waiting (mostly) patiently for a few exhausted minutes when he could have scraps of attention from me.
    Inevitably, he too, got cross sometimes and shouted as well.
    And here lies the crux of a thorny question married women have faced since time immemorial: is it possible to be the Perfect Wife while you're trying to be the Perfect Mother?
    The fact is that when children arrive, women turn away from the husbands who have, up to that point, been the focus of all their nurturing and love and passion.
    The trouble is that children are more rewarding for women than they are for men. I'm sorry, the feminists can howl as loudly as they like, but it's true. Women usually want babies more than men do. We find them a more irresistible prospect, (I think it's called biology).

    We (usually) get more excited at the first smile, the first tooth, the first toddle.
    We (usually) cope better with the boredom, the mess, the racket; and we (usually) find the inevitable loss of income, freedom, and time for ourselves easier to contemplate.
    It does help hugely, of course, if the father enjoys it all too, in a sufficiently mature and selfless way and not just from a practical point of view.
    But fathers are born, not made, in my experience, and for every caring, sharing chap, showing pictures of the latest scan in the pub and earnestly sourcing organic carrots for the puree, there are a whole lot more feeling rejected and put upon and wondering where on earth the girl they married went to.

    Men love to be mothered and fed and watered like they were when they were little - and when their wife finds she has a real child who needs mothering, the result can be dreadful tensions in the marriage.
    For the woman, the demands of children are immediate, constant, and press all the right buttons - the ones marked "urgent".
    No one except a monster - or a mother from the Fifties, but we'll come on to her in a minute - could ignore a hungry baby, a whining toddler or a sick child.

    The demands of a husband, meanwhile, also press emotional buttons in a wife, but in stark contrast, they are the ones that say "in a minute", "not now" or even "for goodness sake, can't you see I've got enough to cope with?"
    Which, of course, you have. The point is that every mother wants to be a Perfect Mother. You wouldn't set out on the whole baby business if you didn't.
    It's the holy grail, the fallacy peddled by all those baby books, magazine and newspaper articles - for many modern women it has become more important than having a good career, indeed it is a career in itself.
    And if you fail at motherhood, having set out to create a domestic dream, you feel pretty damn bad about yourself.

    At the beginning, you see yourself as calm, smiling, loving, with lots of time to develop talents and interests, read stories and bake organic bread. You may well achieve something pretty close to that.

    Personally, I seemed to be stressed, scowling and always rushing out to the corner shop to buy a packet of sliced white. But the problem is that trying to be a perfect mother takes an inordinate amount of time. And energy.
  2. Just creating the requisite atmosphere for bedtime: everyone settled into freshly laundered beds and cots while you read them stories - rather like a scene from The White Company Catalogue - requires more advance planning and critical analysis than the invasion of a small country, or the running of a large company.

    As for your own bedtime (and your husband's, which is unlikely to come at the same time), it takes place somewhere between ten and the small hours, after you've done the lunch boxes, sorted the socks, and done a bit of frantic ironing.
    Even then, as you climb exhausted into bed, your sleep is frequently interrupted by cries of "Mummy I feel sick/had a bad dream/can't find teddy."

    That's why the prospect of sex with your husband becomes a distant dream.
    And if you have to add into that equation going out to work, delivering and fetching children from the nursery or childminder, and then embarking on the chores and the cooking when you finally get home, you end up running on empty pretty quickly.

    Soon, you realise you've come a long way from that person you set out to be years before, when you swanned up the aisle full of aspirations for an idyllic life with your man: The Perfect Wife. Or at least the Very Good Wife.
    Now, obviously one man's "very good wife" is not necessarily exactly like another's; not all men want the Jerry Hall ideal of maid in the living room, cook in the kitchen and whore in the bedroom - although I can't personally think of many who don't, not if they were being honest.

    The Very Good Wife is life enhancing. She makes things fun. She's the independent, spirited woman her husband fell in love with and wanted to marry.
    But enter one small noisy, completely exhausting stranger, possessed of such monumental selfishness and manipulative powers, and capable of creating chaos on so unimaginable a scale if it doesn't get exactly what it wants, and with the best will in the world, the Very Good Wife becomes a terrible one, lost in exhaustion and utterly preoccupied with her child.
    Of course it was not always like this. My mother's generation - who ran their families in the Forties and Fifties - always put their husbands first.

    The children were in bed when the householder's key turned in the lock, a delicious supper was waiting in the oven and Mother became Wife, ready, in a freshly laundered something, a smile on her face and a patient ear at the ready for the recounting of the trials of the day.
    At the weekend what Father said went; the family scuttled to do his bidding, or at least what he wanted, and anyway, he'd probably be out a lot of the time playing golf, or going to the football.
    Presumably children must still have had bad dreams or felt sick, but they knew that once Daddy was home, he was the most important person.

    This lofty figure took a tumble in the Sixties, when mothers began to go out to work.
    But a man's needs still were out there in the forefront.

    Even the divine Shirley Conran, High Priestess of Getting It All Done Somehow, counselled that we should make sure that he always had a freshly ironed shirt at the ready. And a handkerchief too.
    In fact, however long and hard the female day - and even though he was expected to help - he helped in small proportions. And when push came to shove, he was still the most important person.
    This inevitably bred resentment in the house. That, I think, was the point at which we women began to realise there was a genuine battle raging in the home - tearing us in two as we sought to devote ourselves to our husband and children in equal measure.
    And since by then many of us had gone out to work, trying to be a perfect mother and a perfect wife - while consumed with guilt at leaving our babies at home - was inevitably doomed to failure.
    These days, men are beginning to understand that when offspring arrive, the paternal figure is no longer going to retain the unquestioning devotion of his wife.

    Fathers know families are a shared responsibility which they've created, and they do an enormous amount to help.

    I look at them in awe as they walk around Sainsbury's on Saturday mornings, patiently checking their lists, babies strapped to their chests while toddlers run riot.
    One of the main reasons for this is that their wives have probably just worked a 60-hour week in a high-powered job, and the man is sensible enough to know that if he demands his dinner on the table at 6pm, he's likely to get a ready meal tipped all over his head as his wife dashes past with a dirty nappy bin under her arm.
    The bottom line is that it's jolly tough on a relationship not having any time or any energy left over for each other.
    Communication might not quite break down, but it starts to crumble. It leads, inevitably, to a sense of huge frustration and questions of how and why did we ever get into this. And I don't know what the answer is.
    Maybe the best solution is to effectively put the marriage on hold: to recognise the problem and know that time - and the arrival of the youngest child at school age - will to a large extent solve it.
    I would not wish to imply it is the end of one's parental headache, there are positive migraines in store in the form of education, adolescence and God knows what else: but at least there's a bit more time for a couple to rediscover one another, and to remind themselves that you can have sex without a baby screaming in the other room.

    The other way to attempt to solve this intractable problem is for women to temper their ambitions a bit: to accept that there's no such thing as a perfect anything.
    That striving for it is counterproductive, and that good old muddling along - giving your husband and children as much time as you can - often works better, and is actually more fun.

  3. I know its along read, but I thought it to be very interesting.
  4. I wouldn't want to be perfect.

    I come from hot-headed, old-fashioned, Italian family.

    "But what do you tell the father of a screaming infant when he feels horribly rejected by his exhausted and harassed wife?"

    My mother (and me) would say.."Too friggin bad!! Get the hell up and help me out!"

    LOL! Well, not that harsh, but you get the idea. Italians are very good at saying exactly what they mean and that is usually at a very high octave!! LOL!
  5. There was a show a few weeks ago, a doctor advising women on coping with menopause, but one thing she said really stuck with me, and I think it is good advice for anybody at any stage of life:

    Renounce Perfection

    No matter how hard we try, we aren't going to achieve it, on our nails, our eyelids or our lives, and we will expend resources on trying for it that could be much better utilized in working toward some other imperfect accomplishment.
  6. i can relate to the writer - simply because it is one of my worries, for myself. not perfection (that can't be achieved) but that my marriage gets lost on the way with the kids. I just don't want to be estranged years down the road.

    we have to try hard I guess...
  7. A lot of the time there is no 'us' time at all and stiking a balance is very difficult.

    You do feel like giving your children more because they are dependent on you, moreover they are with you for a very short time and each moment is precious....You'll have to see your kids off to college in 18 years at the most while you will be stuck with the old grouch for the next sixty!
  8. Well hopefully the husband will be smart enough to figure out that a) the kid is wearing the mother out so he shouldn't take it personally and needs to be patient and understanding, and b) he really needs to help out if he wants some more attention!
  9. Prada, you always find the best articles, very thought provoking.

    I always tell my hubby, if I have to work, you have to help, you wanted kids too! And, I've sacrificed getting ahead at work for you and the kids, I've sacrificed ME for you and the kids, deal with it!
  10. Very interesting article Prada.
    My ex was jealous of my children from the minute the first was born, dunno why it wasn't as if he got less attention as he was never at home before they arrived anyway! Always working but never making any money LOL
  11. My husband is a great hands-on dad and that's a BIG HELP! I can't give him enough credit. We are both fortunate that we are both flexible enough with our business schedules that we both have time to spend with our boys and also make time for ourselves. It's become easier now that we are older but when we were younger...not so much...lol. We didn't have the time...especially when our first was born. We were both just starting our careers so any free time we had was all about the baby....forget about us. That's why there is such a huge gap between our first and second born....lol. We didn't wanted to wait to have another child when we had more time. Our oldest is 13 and the youngest is 4...lol. We've learned over the years to not neglect 'us'.

    We just make time for one another and again the fact that my husband is a hands-on dad is a blessing. I have to give credit where credit is due because I have girlfriends who have husband that will not lift a finger to help around the house or with kids.
    My husband is a successful man and he still makes time for his children and me. So I don't think there are excuses. I think that you just have to be committed and make the time for one another and for the kids.

    There is no such thing as perfection but you can strike a balance and find what works for your family. You have to if you want to have a successful marriage and family...
  12. LOL this article reinforces my decision with SO to not have kids! :smile:

    I can't even imagine how demanding it is to juggle both!
  13. I don't know. I'm part of the group that believes you should put your marriage first, children second. I think so many marriages fall apart because the mothers end up making their children the whole focus of their life and neglect the husband. The husband ends up feeling incompetent or useless and either lashes out, cheats, never wants to come home, etc. You can say that he should wait until the kids are out of school, but by then is the marriage salvageable? Or has he ended up feeling so neglected that he doesn't want to try anymore?

    That's not to say that you should neglect your children in any way, but if they grow up seeing that you are focused on maintaining a strong relationship with their spouse no matter how tough it is to juggle everything, they'll learn to find that same type of love when they get older.

    But I do agree with the article in which you just have to find that balance in a relationship between your husband and the kids. :smile:
  14. I would love to be a 1950s housewife but I think the dosage of Valium of Xanax required would kill a horse.
  15. As unfortunate as it is, I see one of two different family types: the families with a husband and wife who are more focused on keeping each other, and the families that are more focused on their kids. Of course there are the perfect families that have worked out all of the kinks and focus equal attention to each member of the family, but it is in reality rare.

    SO's mother and father put their relationship first before their kids. Their kids suffered for it, and continue to suffer for it. My parents put us before their relationship, and their relationship, while stable, has suffered for that. My Mom originally put my sister and I before my Dad, causing some stressful times; in our later years, Dad put my sister and I before my Mom (currently the situation), and this causes some grief on my mother's part and it has her annoyed with my sister and I frequently. It really is hard to strike that perfect balance, and I know for a fact that I'd be the type of parent (if I wanted kids) that my Mom was and put my children before my SO, because that's the way I was raised. And later on, I'd spoil my kids like my Dad does my sister and I. I know for a fact that it would destroy SO and my relationship with each other. I settled on the fact that I will not ever have children for this reason a while ago. Not to mention I really don't like kids at the moment. At all. I want to spend my life working, having the things that I want, and doing all of the things that SO and I want to do before we die, like travel. My mother wants me to have kids, because she continually questions "well, who will take care of you when you are older?" and I find this to be a pretty poor reason to have children. Many of my female friends aspire to be mothers, which is great for them, but that is not a path that I in the long run would feel is right for me or my SO. I do not want to be in a situation where I would either a. put my children before my SO (which, if I desired kids, I would no doubt) or b. put my SO before my kids, because I just do not feel that it is right to do so. If I actually liked kids and had the knowledge that between SO and my personality that we could balance things, I might change my mind about children, but no, it wouldn't work based on how we just are as people.

    Hope that made sense